Titus Andronicus Tour Diary - Chapel Hill, NC - 4/18/2010
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Hello again, friends. Forgive me for my tardiness in reaching out to you. I do not mean to be lax in my duties as liaison between Titus Andronicus LLC and the readership of this website, duties I take very seriously indeed, but conditions on the road have strange and wondrous effects on the workings of the human brain. Was it Ben Folds Five that sang about the way that, “seconds pass slowly and years go flying by?” [Editor’s note: Yes, yes it was.] Well, being on tour is sort of like that, or maybe it is not unlike being encased in ember or frozen in some sort of carbonite chamber like Han Solo was put in at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Out here on the long Saturday night (or Monday morning, as it were), the days become very much interchangeable, for all that each one brings a wealth of new experiences and sensations. Maybe it is more like Groundhog Day. Anyway, what I am getting at is, I do not mean to leave you waiting so long for my dispatches, but the passage of time becomes nearly imperceptible while on tour. Upon beginning to write this, how shocked I was to think that some 16 or 17 days had elapsed since last we spoke! It is funny—the time when we begun this tour seems so remote now, but at the same time, so many of our more distant experiences seem like they happened just yesterday. I can remember being inside that Sacramento coffee shop as clearly as though I just left it, but it boggles my mind to consider how far in the past it actually is. This phenomenon makes the documentation of our experiences difficult. This blog is one example of that. Another is the tour diary I started to keep a while back, which went the way of all such attempts by myself; I filled up about 20 pages, went into too much detail about everything, and soon, as much as I struggled to keep it current, the disparity between the time of my writing and the time of the experiences being written about continued to grow and grow. What lesson to be gleaned here? Maybe it is what our old pal Ted Leo was singing about on his song, “One Polaroid a Day,” from he and his Pharmacists’ fine new album, The Brutalist Bricks, about how “you kill the moment when you cling.” Even though the uncharacteristically deep voice in which he sings the song can take a few listens to get used to, maybe he is speaking the truth. Are my concerns about posterity getting the way of my “living in the now,” as Garth Algar might say? Am I doing my experiences a disservice by trying to fit them into neat little boxes? Maybe it is just the numbing agents at work in the touring indie rocker lifestyle that are leaving me without the will to record my personal history. Also, it is hard to write neatly in our bumpy van. Whatever it is, my memories are growing dimmer all the time, and there is still so much to tell you about! I guess the only thing for me to do is try and run through just the big highlights of our experiences from the South by Southwest music conference up until now. Then maybe we can start to establish a healthier paradigm.
Okay, South by Southwest. What can be said about it that hasn’t been said by a dozen or more blogs already? Probably nothing, I guess. Have you read about how Free Energy was awesome? Well, that was true. Did you read that Fucked Up totally killed it at the Fader Fort? That was true also. Did you hear about any people that loved the performance by Nodzz at Cheer Up Charlie’s? I was one of those people. SXSW is an especially difficult series of experiences to organize into a cohesive, ready-to-digest, user-friendly package. Sensory overload begins early in the morning and doesn’t end until bedtime, if it even does then. Where else can you walk down any given street at any given moment and be listening to 10 bands at once? The only thing that I could compare it to is the scene in You’re Gonna Miss Me when Roky Ericksson turns on all sorts of TVs, radios, keyboard demos, etc. until they all collaborate to create an unearthly swirl of white noise. I have been told he doesn’t do that stuff anymore (not that I could find out for myself—the line for his performance with Okkervil River was long as fuck!!), but if he did, then Austin would indeed be the perfect place for him, at least during this conference. Peace is a scarce commodity in the eye of this maelstrom, so to survive, one must surrender to the madness somewhat. It is not without the potential for great happiness, like when the singer of the World’s Greatest Punk Rock Band, who shall here remain nameless, described our band as being his favorite! That shit was nuts! Truly, it is a pretty sweet party, but exhausting, especially for poor Ian, who, with typical seriousness and dedication to his responsibilities, spent the whole week running around like the proverbial headless chicken. I had fun, though.
I will tell you one story of a time when I was furious. It was our very last performance of the conference, at a Todd P show (in name only—the living saint Joe Ahearn of Sleep When Dead NYC fame was actually in charge) at Cheer Up Charlie’s. This was the last addition to our schedule, and I was disappointed to leave the Fucked Up Saves Music Showcase which we had just played, and was still promising a lot of good bands. The only band at this other show I got to see was Harlem, which was hard to enjoy, not for anything to do with the merits of their music, but for the way that they spent most of their set making fun of us and performing cruel parodies of our music! Ian, who has served as their tour manager of sorts in the past, assured me they were “just kidding,” but it still hurt my feelings. You know, on account of I don’t even know those guys! Jose I had met a couple times when he was the bassist of Spider Bags, but the others I had met only briefly the day previous. Anyway, it hurt, for I am sensitive, and the oft-tiring life of a touring indie rocker, especially at SXSW, makes me moreso. We will play with them again at Maxwell’s in Hoboken later this month—will they make fun of us again? I hope not, that would be humiliating. This wasn’t what upset me the most though. In their infinite wisdom, some authority figure had set up a series of “fire barrels” around the yard where the show was happening, as a way to beat the unseasonable cold that had just rolled in that day, ruining everyone’s vacation. Did I mention that the ground was covered in flammable-ass hay? Because that is pretty important! These barrels provided shielding from the flame, but the bottoms were open, to allow oxygen to feed the embers. Add to this already iffy situation a multitude of drunk hipster dumbasses, and well, you can probably guess what happened right? Some genius got the notion to knock over one of the barrels, and soon, the hay on the ground was on fire and spreading fast, and because, this is punk so, like, who gives a fuck, the assembled masses thought this was worthy of no response beyond staring at it with varying degrees of slack in their jaws. Quickly weighing my options (something I am terrible at doing quickly!), I removed my winter coat, a beautiful Spielwalk, a gift from Troubleman Unlimited CEO Mike Simonetti, and threw it on the flames in an attempt to snuff them. It worked! It also succeeded at fucking ruining the coat! Aargh! That coat was so sweet! I tried to get someone to take responsibility, to no avail, and maybe rightly so. All the while, Harlem cackled on. Then, once they were done, the place cleared out, and I was looking at a lot of lonely hay and a grotesquely melted coat. Man, it sucked. “I could be watching Fucked Up right now!” I thought bitterly to myself.
The story has a happy ending, though. By the time we began to play, the kids somehow rematerialized and proved themselves to be just about as wonderful an audience as an indie-rock band could want, dancing wildly but responsibly, singing along fervently, and sending out all manner of good vibes. Our erstwhile guitarist and current member of Deer Tick, Ian O’Neil, appeared at the front of the stage unexpectedly near the end of the show, and I foisted my guitar on him to play a solo on our song, “Titus Andronicus Forever,” which was nice. It was a true testament to the healing powers of punk, its special way of taking a bad situation and making something positive out of it. I speak of a concert, yes, but isn’t that what being a punk is about in all facets of our lives? Is it not the way of the punk to accept the negative but work to extenuate the positive? Is the message not that, yes, perhaps our system is mightily fucked, but we can make it better by working together and pooling our positivity and all that good stuff? I think that is what Ian MacKaye was trying to say. I dunno, whatever it was, I felt better afterwards.